The History of Holistic Medicine: The Indian Tradition of Ayurveda
Nowhere is the image of holistic medicine – creating a healthy balance between the body, mind and spirit – more present than in Ayurvedic medicine.
The ancient tradition of Ayurveda originated in India in the first millennium BC. Teachings of Ayurveda talked of the “five great elements” – earth, water, fire, air, and ether – which formed not only the human body, but the entire universe. Each of the five senses in the human body related to one of the elements – ether/hearing, air/touch, fire/vision, water/taste and earth/smell.
According to Ayurvedic beliefs, each of these five elements, upon entering the body could do one of three things.
- It could nourish the body.
- It could heal the body.
- It could make the body sick.
The effect each had on the body was dependent on the balance of the body system as a whole.
The five elements also paired up to form three distinct energies – or doshas – Vata (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water) or Kapha (water and earth). Ideally, the three doshas were equally balanced in the individual. Imbalances could be corrected through administering herbs, foods and substances that rebalanced all three.
Everything in the environment, in Ayurvedic belief, was made up of these three doshas. How those environmental doshas interacted with the individual’s, then, played a large role in determining the health of the individual.
According to Ayurvedic tradition, digestion was also key to well-being, and so food played an important role in health. This applied not only to physical nourishment, but also spiritual and mental food. In other words, what one saw, heard, thought, smelled and felt had just as much impact on the overall health of the individual as what one ate. Everything affected everything else.
This holistic view of the body in harmony with the environment carries on in today’s Ayurveda, which is practiced worldwide as a form of alternative, holistic medicine.
Read the Rest of the History of Holistic Medicine Series.
The History of Holistic Medicine: The Modern Age
The History of Holistic Medicine: The Ancient Greeks and Holistic Medicine
The History of Holistic Medicine: Chinese Traditions